Thursday, August 31, 2017

Your Way-Maker

As a young pastor, I listened to a wise older pastor who once said, "Let God be the one who makes a way for you." He was talking about a self-promotion that comes when we feel our calling is not moving along fast enough. In our insecurity, we think we can jumpstart the process. 

The hidden danger in self-promotion is the premature positioning it produces. We can find ourselves in situations that require a higher level of maturity and a greater depth of character than we currently possess. Without the maturity and character required for these assignments, we are not able to safely navigate the obstacles of pride and the landmines of hell that have been placed in our way. Arriving at these self-promoted places before God makes a way will leave us vulnerable to things God never desired for us to experience. In your journey rest and trust God. He is your safest way-maker.

Crossing Old Fence Lines

Along the ridgeline above me, I saw the remains of an old barbwire fence. Only a few of the posts survived. Those that did were pockmarked with holes the work of decay and weather. On the north-facing side of a solitary post grew a layer of green moss.

Tacked to the post was a limp section of old rusted barbed wire, a prickly reminder of a long-forgotten property line. Standing alongside the post I could see where this now unprotected line of ownership must have progressed. Raising my eyes to the distant horizon, I saw the next post a few hundred yards away and another beyond that.  The other fence posts in between these remaining sentinels had toppled long ago.

As I stood there trying to imagine what those old boundary lines had once defined, I realize today, they define nothing. I was hiking in a large wildlife area. The Denman Wildlife Area is no longer a place sectioned off by wire and multiple property deeds. The entire area was a gift to the community now filled with hiking trails and wildlife and no barbwire fences. While processing my thoughts, the Lord began to speak to me a word that might be for you if you are living like the old boundary lines of your past are still in place and directing your steps.

The Lord said that some of you are still moving through life being restricted by the memory the old and decaying fence lines of past relationships and alliances. You have not yet realized those old barriers have no legal right to restrict your current movement. You have assumed they still have authority, but God has re-deeded your life. You are now walking in a new place, an expanded version of what once was. You have established well-worn pathways along old fence lines that no longer exist. It is time to leave those worn paths and venture across the old fence lines to walk in the wide and open space of your calling.

When the Lord finished talking to me, I continued my hike up the ridge and stepped across the old barrier line between me and the beautiful expanse of the open field. I couldn’t help but think my hike was a metaphor for some of your reading these words. There are no fences in your life. You have been called to the wide open expanse of freedom in Christ. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Greatest Loneliness

The greatest loneliness is not to be single. It is to be married to someone who does not share the same spiritual oneness with God that you experience. As impossible as it can seem, especially in moments of deep discouragement, never forget that you are already married to the miracle worker of Heaven. He is your first spouse. He is able to accomplish more than your wildest dreams could ever imagine. Never give up. Continue to pray and believe for your spouse. With God, miracles are always possible even when you have lost all hope and feel the most alone.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Orchestra of God

When the Lord began to speak to me about the reformation currently taking place, He said it would be a reformation that began with a sound – the sound of truth spoken in love. As I pondered the subject, I watched a video that gave me an image of what this reformation will look like at its beginning.

The video presented a blind astrophysicist from Puerto Rico, Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced. Dr. Diaz-Merced lost her eyesight as a child. As she entered her field of research she pursued the study of the universe and its composition. Dr. Diaz-Merced said, “Everything in the universe has its own voice, has like its own personality.”  In her research, she found that life forms have a sound signature and together each element played in concert with other sounds to become like a symphonic orchestra. Dr. Diaz-Merced shared that the science of the universe is discovered inside the sound of that orchestration. She finished her presentation by saying, “If we only see with our eyes our perception is very narrow.”

Like the sound of God's voice uttered at creation, our voice has creative potential if love is what empowers our sound. Miracles of supernatural transformation are embedded in human lives and culture. They are like seeds waiting to be germinated by the sound of our voice.  The harvest of this miraculous crop will be the fruit of the reformation.

As I write, I can still see an image of Dr. Diaz-Merced sitting at her desk with headphones on listening to the sounds of the universe. That is the image of a reformer. Someone who can hear the sound of the Spirit and then release that sound in their assigned sphere of cultural influence. Everyone can make this sound. When we speak the truth in love we become part of the orchestrated sound of reformation in culture. This is very similar to the sound heard in the unformed universe when God uttered the first sentence ever recorded, “Let there be light.” In this reformation, we will become the creative voice of God calling forth the elements of human lives and social structures to more accurately represent the heart and purpose of God.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Unanswered Questions

I used to wonder why Jesus did not provide clear answers to some of the questions people asked Him in Scripture – questions that seemed divisive in their composition. I think He leaves some things unanswered because it creates a relational tension as we pursue answers with people of differing opinions. In that tension, we have a chance to demonstrate our love or promote our opinion. The demonstration of love in a moment of questioning is more powerful than the answers we seek.

Untying the Knot of Assumption

I read a sad social media interchange between a church leader and the people responding to something he posted. The comment he made appeared flippant and out of tune with God’s heart. I assume it is a comment he now regrets making, maybe not in content but in his method of presentation. We all say and do things from time to time we wish we had another chance to process in a different fashion. The subject addressed in the social media interchange is one that has a very painful and personal to a large percentage of our culture. It also has a deeper understanding and meaning than a casual and assumptive surface read can reveal. 

When I finished reading the comments relating to the leader’s post, I saw a large knot being loosened. It was the knot of theological assumption tied over the valley where I live. It could also exist where you live. It is a knot that keeps people living in fear because it exercises control, not grace.

The knot I saw was not loosening because people were becoming more liberal in their interpretation of God’s Word. It was loosening because people are learning about God’s heart and that is affecting how they read and interpret His Word, a reading without the filter of an outside and separate controlling presence telling them what to believe.  When the Spirit is leading people in the interpretation of Scripture the deeper truth on challenging subjects is revealed.  

We are in a time similar to when Gutenberg used his famous printing press to print the first Bibles. Social media has changed the landscape of our culture and in some cases, the Church. No longer is the pulpit located in a building. Each believer is now a mobile pulpit of sorts, each with a valued opinion. 

In the year 1450, Gutenberg began to print sections of Scripture. It is no surprise when Luther tacked his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in the year 1517 that one of the driving forces behind the Protestant Reformation was the increasing availability of Scripture to the masses. This also happened when Jesus walked the Earth. The Word became flesh and walked among the people without the controlling presence of the religious leaders of the day dictating what people could believe.  

The knot of assumption is loosening. It is actually being untied and turned into a rope of rescue used to pull people up from the depths of narrow and misguided interpretations of Scripture and the heart of God. God is untying the knot of assumption and He is offering a rope of grace to pull His people higher. Grab the rope!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Spirit of Debate

Once, I was asked by another believer if I would consider a debate. I said, “No.” When asked why I replied, “Because one of us would walk away being considered the winner.” I was pressed further and shared, “When the world looks at the Church I want them to see humility and oneness, not winners and losers.”  

The greatest knowledge is gained through revelation, not in debate gotcha moments. There is something called a spirit of debate. This is a real spirit that desires to draw us into confrontations disguised as religious inquiry with a covert mission to bring division and disillusionment. Paul described these misguided debates as “foolish discussions” and “useless and a waste of time.” 

If we develop a sensitivity to the Spirit, He will lead us into all knowledge without the need to debate with anyone. Jesus affirmed this when he told His disciples, “When the Spirit comes, he will lead you into all truth” (John 16:13). The Spirit has come and He is ready to lead us past the foolish arguments of man into the depths of revelation if we are willing to say no to the challenges made by a spirit of debate.

We are Christ's Bride, Not His Harem

One of the most beautiful things about love is choice. If you remove choice from either side of a relationship it is no longer love. I remember the day I asked Jan to marry me. I asked and she said yes. I offered love and she accepted. I did not take Jan by force apart from the exercise of her will. Our love reflected a mutual choice.

There is something floating around the Church attempting to become a point of theology. It is trying to convince its listeners that all of humanity is saved apart from choice. I understand the desire for such an error to be true but in the end, too much Scripture stands in the way. A simple reading of the New Testament looking for words like “believe” or “accept” keep our choice to receive the offer of God’s love squarely in the salvation equation.

Paul told the Corinthians, “He made you holy by means of Jesus Christ, just as He did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (I Corinthians 1:2). The “call” part is the exercise of our will to receive the offer of God's love in Christ.

Luke wrote, “Of Him, all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).  Jesus said something similar, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Believe is an important word.

While Jesus never gave traditional altar calls with the hymn, Just As I Am, playing in the background, He did ask people to follow Him. The following was a choice of their will. It is not about the method of invitation, it is about our choice to follow. Take the choice away and the Church will look like a harem, not a bride.

Be careful out there. Paul said we need to rise to a level of maturity in our faith so that, “We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Grove

The old dead oak tree stood on the hill above me, a bark-less memory of another life.  This old gray wooden statue held his head high among the young oaks still generations away from the gray of death. They were prospering in the insulated virility of their youth. The old oak was limbless except for his main branches reaching into the air like a man frozen in a still frame while waving at a passerby. 

As beautiful as the other oaks in the grove were, it was this old one that caught my eye. He created contrast in the grove. His bark-less limbs had been buffed shiny gray by the grit of time. He has stood decades in this posture of death following hundreds of years of the green life. The other younger oaks surrounding him were birthed from the offering of this old one.

I stood on the trail for several minutes watching the old oak. Some day a strong wind will topple his last upright witness pulling him back to the ground from which he first rose centuries ago the fruit of a single acorn.

This is the stuff of life. We are all on a journey of life-seasons. Each one is given by God as a gift and each one carries beauty and significance. The young and barked and the old and barren each have their place in the grove of life. Celebrate each other. It is the way of goodness.

Spray and Pray

As a young cop, I had to learn about the judicious use of firearms. In my training, there was a term called, “Pray and Spray.” Pray and Spray means that when a threat appears that could cause death or great bodily harm, the undisciplined person will start praying and pulling the trigger as fast as they can spraying bullets in hopes of hitting their target and ending the threat. The problem with this tactic is you might kill or injure innocent bystanders who are not a threat because you haven’t taken precise aim. Our combat instructors in the police academy told us we were responsible for every round that left the barrel of our weapon. The same is true in the world of social media and casual conversation. Every word we speak will find a target, intended and unintended targets alike.

If you write, preach or open your mouth about anything in the public eye, at some point, you will end up on someone’s heretic list. These aren’t kind lists. They are created by people whose audience is made possible only because they own a computer, have Internet access and an ax to grind. These unrighteous critics have no relationship with those whom they feel called to criticize and categorize. I am on a few of these lists that warn people of a perceived heresy because what I said or wrote did not line up with their opinion. Some of the names on these lists are people like Billy Graham, Jack Hayford, Rick Warren and a host of other great people of God. Some of these heresy hunting lists are really long, long enough to include my name and maybe yours.

Heresy is defined by most dictionaries as a departure from orthodox belief. Martin Luther was viewed as a heretic in the Protestant Reformation that took place 500 years ago. What Luther was actually doing was trying to return the Church to an orthodox belief that was abandoned centuries before when the hierarchy of religion took the reins of faith away from the people. Those in power called him a heretic because their definition of orthodoxy was limited to their self-serving interpretation of Scripture and their narrow understanding of God’s Kingdom. Their form of orthodoxy was not God’s original design or intent. Luther’s challenge to return to original orthodoxy was labeled a heresy. A lot of good people died unnecessary deaths when the hounds of heresy were released to pursue their prey.

In Titus 3:10 a divisive person is described as someone who divided believers against each other. The term “divisive person” was used in the Early Church to describe a type of heretic. Paul told Titus to warn that kind of person twice and after that tell them to leave the circle of fellowship. Their continued heretical presence in the Church would allow the fangs of a wolfing presence to sink into innocent sheep and tear them apart.

Perhaps the division we cause when we adopt a pray and spray attitude is a greater heresy that a misguided point of theology.  It can be more dangerous because it divides the oneness of the Church. Be careful when you pull the trigger of your personal opinion. You can cause more damage than you realize if you simply spray your opinion about other people and groups. You can end up killing and injuring innocent people that are not your enemy they just have a different way of seeing God and His Kingdom. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Our Wittenberg Door

I have stood before the church door in Wittenberg, Germany where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses five hundred years ago. Luther's act sparked the Protestant Reformation. The Wittenberg Door represents how reformation can begin in the Church with a single act of courageous obedience.

Today, as I pondered the reformation currently taking place in the Church, I thought of what a modern day version of the Wittenberg Door would represent.

A Wittenberg Door experience in our day will be….

A dividing line between what was and what could be.
A platform where neglected voices crying in the wilderness can find an audience.
A point of transition in existing relationships that see change as a threat.
A monument in history honoring the place where the spark of a new reformation began.
A place of mixture where the truth will exist alongside error requiring our discernment.

Prophets are nailing to the door of the Church a modern version of Luther’s 95 Theses. The sound of the reformer’s hammer is striking and that sound can create both fear and faith. The choice is ours to make regarding how we will respond. 

This reformation does not have to be an either/or experience. Unity amidst diversity will be a hallmark of this reformation. Instead of discarding and demeaning what is already in place, God will show us how very different ways of approaching the Great Commission can actually work together as a larger representation of our unified calling.  Prepare your heart for what is coming. The condition of your heart will determine how God will be able to use you in the coming reformation and it will also determine the legacy you leave behind.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Not All Who Wander Are...

In a television interview today, I said to my interviewer, "Some of those labeled as 'forsaking the assembling' of the Church have not walked away from God. They have simply forsaken the model of the Church we have presented to them." Be careful making flippant comments about people who are walking in a different direction with their faith. They may actually be walking into a future that will more accurately represent the heart of God for His people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Finding Creative Solutions

As a young rookie cop, I listened with a blend of anticipation and joy when the old-timers told their stories. I remember one story about a young man with a bad attitude who drove by one of the old-timers. When he passed the cop, the young man extended his hand out the window and gave the officer the single finger salute. The old cop calmly turned around and pulled over the offender. When the officer approached the overly confident young man he was met with a sneering face and the words, “I didn’t do anything illegal. Why are you hassling me?” After asking calmly for his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, the officer said, “Thank you, I will be right back.”

In a few minutes, the officer returned and said, “I have issued a citation. Please sign here. It not an admission of guilt, it is your promise to appear.” The driver had now shifted into the aggressive punk mode and said, “Old man this is bogus. I just flipped you the bird and there’s nothing you can do about it.” The officer replied saying, “I have cited you for an illegal hand signal. Please sign here.” The offender continued to turn up the dial on his punk meter by offering the officer a long list of profanities and continued belligerence. The young man then said in disgust, “I will see you in court.” The officer said, “I hope so. I would enjoy listening to you explain your choice of hand signals to the judge.” At that, the countenance of the driver fell. Then he smiled. He knew he had been had by a wisdom that was far superior to the vulgar gesture he tossed out his window in passing.

We need some creative expressions of wisdom in the times in which we live. The way forward for the culture and the Church will not be discovered by repeating what we have done in the past or simply letting some aspects of life pass by without offering a loving challenge. Being a street cop puts a person on the mean and sometimes coarse streets of a city. The same thing happens when our faith walks out of a church sanctuary and encounters a broken culture. We can look disconnected and out of touch because we don’t engage people at the level of their brokenness with a loving challenge to their assumptions. 

We don’t have to be angry or mean to engage human brokenness. We do need to be wise if we are going to discover a new and creative way to engage dysfunction with the hope of reconciliation, not just another confrontation. In the end, if you choose to be wise, someone might actually smile at you in the challenge if you remain calm and considerate in the way you reveal the truth and confront injustice.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Day After

Have you noticed that events like an eclipse, events known beforehand never measure up to the apocalyptic warnings issued prior to their arrival? It is the surprise events of life that catch us off guard. Those events actually change life as we know it.

The unexpected events of life - Pearl Harbor, divorce, 9/11, death, a deadly disease pronouncement - these are what catch us off guard. When they take place they require the exercise of faith, not fear, as the primary navigational tool to help us make it through the aftermath of their arrival. Fear is a very marketable commodity. That is why it always works as a marketing tool in the hands of fear-mongers when an eclipse or a Y2K moment appears on the calendar.                                                                        

I am glad many of you bought eclipse glasses and enjoyed the event with family and friends. That is why God put on such a beautiful display yesterday in the heavens. He loves to see people enjoy His handiwork, not live in a perpetual state of fear and suspicion.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Ultimate Expression of Justice

Soon the natural event of the solar eclipse will be over and we will return to life as we know it – a life where true justice can be absent for many people. My wife, Jan, is finishing her new book, Blessings of Hope and Joy. Jan is writing her blessings from the book of Isaiah. This morning, Jan shared a sentence from one of the blessings as we took communion. It was so profound that it made me stop and think about justice in a new way.

                  “His justice is His truth and the truth about Himself.“

After the eclipse event is over and you return to your regularly scheduled life you will face the seething turmoil that is roiling in our American culture. As you stand before any form of injustice remember this - each time the love of God is made known, justice is being released. If our version of justice is only "just us "and the fulfillment of our agenda, it will lack the supernatural potential to shift the direction of the culture. Our nation needs an encounter with God. That will be the ultimate expression of justice.

Riding the Rocket of Revelation

There are times when God will give you a word loaded with such power and potential, it feels like you are riding a rocket. At the moment of your launch, you begin to realize you are heading toward a target much larger than you first imagined. As the distance closes between the word and its final destination, anticipation begins to build as you come to realize God is up to something spectacular, something far beyond what you dared to hope for or even consider in prayer.

You are not responsible for the ultimate delivery of a word God launches toward a human heart. God has a supernatural guidance system built into each word He has you release. It will arrive and perform its assigned task. He also has the ability to take the word you prophesied in part and add it to a much larger revelation. He will rearrange the content of your word to fit through the narrow opening of a wounded heart and a protected human will.

In natural conflict, there is something called, “Collateral Damage.”  This damage brings unwanted death and destruction beyond the intended target. In God’s Kingdom just the opposite takes place. The word you speak will release collateral life upon detonation. You may think you are speaking to a single person or group but when the word lands and explodes it will release the tremors of resurrection life. What was dead will come to life. What was not yet imagined will appear. To set this miraculous process in motion requires your willingness to speak the word God gives you and the willingness to ride that word in faith toward its intended target. There are explosions of love on your horizon. Enjoy the ride!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

After 44 Years

This morning, I was showing Jan where something was stored. I said, “Maybe after I'm gone your next husband won’t be so focused on something like this." Jan said, “There won’t be a next husband. It's just you then eternity.” The things a couple talks about during the week of their 44th anniversary provides a unique window of insight into their relationship. I feel the same way Jan, "It's just you then eternity."